Stop the Clock (Book Excerpt)


I’m back in book and here’s a tiny tiny snatch of what I’ve been working on this week. Oh such a relief to be back in 1987 Boston, ugly and beautiful just like everything else.

Even as my first romance was happening I was remembering it and wishing for it too. Like all girls without a safe haven, I’ve always been willing to throw over so much for a here-you-are-my-other kiss. For that walk, hand in hand, into a future that doesn’t loom so much as beckon.

For here with Matt was all the magic I’d been looking for. Dark clouds were blown away and I could smell the future as present, sweet as soil, soft as rain. With this boy I could lie all day and look up at trees that glowed. Trust that he had a clock whose hands didn’t just move forward but everywhere at once.

Alone we dipped into the galleries of the Isabella Stewart Gardner, pretending the whole mansion was ours–the paintings, chapel and courtyard, all of it. Down the Fens we moseyed (past my mother twenty years before, lolling in the sun with cigarettes and half-closed eyes), first to the MFA then across Storrow Drive, glittering like the Charles by which it slid. On the Blue Line we rode all the way to Revere Beach, where we stared at steel waves, so different from the Outer Cape’s unfettered glamour. From Portuguese-speaking vendors roaming the trash-strewn beach we bought pineapple sodas and spicy meat pies enhanced by the reefers passed around by the old winos up and down the sand.

Everything was just so beautiful.

I preferred our moving picture to star only us but en masse Matt’s group trooped around town and into the city–what we called every part of Greater Boston that could be reached by an underground subway. With few exceptions, this crew had loads of freedom and bank. Matt’s parents were well-known child psychologists who’d already dropped acid with him as an experiment in open parenting, and everyone else had at least two lavish households, having emerged from the Kramer v Kramer wave of divorces with two sets of holidays and parents too consumed by new love lives to notice how we were plundering their resources.

None of these kids were honor students–a skepticism about intellectualism was part of their grunge-baby ethos, and the assumption the world was already their oyster stripped them of any hunger to perform well. Instead they drove around in midcentury Mercedes, decked out in psychedelic prints and velvet suits rescued from their parents’ closets–punk filtered through hippie and no-nuke subcultures.

1987 me

Then as now, groups flooded me with too much information, but this one’s triple-entendres, self-built mythologies and meta-jokes, lived deep inside Matt’s magic so I played along. In the middle of the night I’d steal out of my house into his olive BMW already full of these punkrock peacocks, everyone vibrating fast on Vivirin, banging on leather upholstery as the Minutemen shook the doors. At I Hop on Soldiers Field Road we’d wolf chocolate chip pancakes and black coffee until the sky began to change, then loop back home, a carpool of mild subversion. At the Brattle, drafty and vast, we ogled Jack Nicholson’s Head;  at the Middle East Café I tried my first shawarma and an all-ages shows of Dinosaur, later to become Dinosaur Jr.

Everyone moshed, shooting up and down and side to side–chemistry a go go, don’t ya know–and a wall of noise floated J Mascis’ whine. I shimmied off to the side, Edie in my limbs, liquid in my hips. Moves that didn’t match the music or Matt but everything else in me, a magic no one could touch. Until I felt someone watching me in a way that made me rear back, self-conscious as I rarely was.

“That girl is such a nothing,” I heard Allegra say.

"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy